Pinyon Jays, Gymnorhinus cyanocephalusare, are birds about the size and shape of a small crow that are overall blue-gray in coloring. The females and males are colored and sized similarly and are difficult to tell apart. The Pinyon Jay’s primary food source is piñon nuts although they do eat other seeds, berries, and insects. They are found year-round in 11 western states with about one-third of the population in New Mexico. They are found in the Central Highlands but are uncommon.

They nest in the late winter with the male providing nesting material to the female. These jays are known to steal nesting materials from other birds’ unattended nests. Rude! Pinyon Jays travel and nest in flocks. Some of these groups can contain several hundred birds.

Pinyon Jays are considered a keystone species for the piñon/juniper forests where they live. The jays and the piñons are interdependent. The piñon nuts are sustenance for the jays, and the jays provide seed dispersal for the trees. This connection between the jays and the pines provides habitat for other birds and animals.

Pinyon Jays are on the Red List and considered vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Partners in Flight estimates that 83% of the Pinyon Jay population was lost between 1967 and 2015. Much of their habitat is lost due to development, grazing, and thinning/burning for wildfire prevention.

The Great Basin Bird Observatory has a community science initiative that is gathering data on Pinyon Jays. You can find the link to participate at: https://www.gbbo.org/community-science

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